Treat sunshine with caution

It’s wonderful that so many people are enjoying the April heat wave but brilliant sunshine should be treated with caution. Yes, we need some exposure to UV rays to synthesise Vitamin D in our skin, but excessive sun bathing can hasten skin ageing and lead to dangerous skin cancer. UVB rays, which haven’t penetrated our chilly Northern atmosphere since October last year, are now able to slant through the ozone layer because the sun is higher in the sky. These rays are the primary cause of sunburn, so it’s definitely time for the factor 35 sun block if you have a fair or moderately fair skin.

UVB rays, which haven’t penetrated our chilly Northern atmosphere since October last year, are now able to slant through the ozone layer because the sun is higher in the sky. These rays are the primary cause of sunburn, so it’s definitely time for the factor 35 sun block if you have a fair or moderately fair skin.

UVA rays which can pass through clouds and car windows penetrate more deeply into the skin and damage collagen, leading to fine lines and wrinkles. Both types of UV rays can lead to skin cancer – UVB causes inflammation which can cause genetic alterations in cellular DNA over time. UVA rays go deeper and damage elastic tissue and fibroblasts.

One good idea is to wear sun protective clothing in the heat of the midday sun, from 11am to 2pm and a sunhat to shield your head and face. Apply sunscreen regularly when you are out in the sunshine but don’t rely on sunscreen that is integrated into cosmetics which rarely protect against UVA. Better to find a good sunscreen lotion, cream or gel and put a regular foundation over the top of the protective barrier layer. I always say choose factor 30-50 – anything less won’t stop the majority of the UV rays.

Children below the age of 6 months shouldn’t wear sunscreen but they should be protected from sunshine because their skin isn’t developed enough to create a protective barrier of its own but is easily burned.

Children below the age of 6 months shouldn’t wear sunscreen but they should be protected from the bright sun because their skin isn’t developed enough to create a protective barrier of its own but is easily burned.

We now think that DNA damage to skin cells early in life increases lifetime risk of developing skin cancer later on. There are very good sun shades, and sun clothes for babies and toddlers.

The other thing that is very important is to protect your eyes from the sun. Eyelid skin is very delicate and easily burned. There are some sunscreens that are specially formulated for eyelids. Invest in a decent pair of UV absorbing sunglasses. These are also available for children.

If you are worried that you aren’t getting enough Vitamin D from sun exposure, or you are deficient in Vitamin D in your diet, you can always to good bioavailable supplements which are much more pleasant that cod’s liver oil. I take 50 micrograms a day and it’s been a wise investment.

Dr Nick Lowe

Dr Nick Lowe MD, MB, ChB, FRCP, FACP. Dr Lowe is a Consultant Dermatologist at Cranley Clinic, London
and Clinical Professor of Dermatology, UCLA School of Medicine, Los Angeles.
Dr Nick Lowe

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